On the Ground moves to Northside neighborhood for 120 days

On the Ground, a program run by the Michigan-based Issue Media Group, the parent company for Southwest Michigan's Second Wave movies into its second neighborhood, Kalamazoo’s Northside, on Aug. 2.

The move comes after 120 days of coverage of the Edison neighborhood, including July’s coverage written by Edison residents. The first story appeared in Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave online magazine on April 5.

On the Ground helps to tell the story of the people, projects, and innovations that are creating “what’s next” for communities. The intended impact is for “solutions-oriented” media coverage, engagement and ultimately understanding of the community, resulting in awareness and investments that can contribute to the vitality and prosperity of the district covered.

The concept of On the Ground is to use an “embedded journalism” model to maintain a presence in a specific neighborhood for a period of 120 days. During this time the publication focuses weekly coverage on those neighborhoods to tell the story of the businesses, individuals, and nonprofits working and living there.

The publication also produces, covers, and promotes a finale event upon completion of the project. The event depends upon what best fits the neighborhood. The event for the Edison neighborhood included a collaboration with Washington Writers’ Academy. The event for the Northside neighborhood has not yet been determined.

“What I love about the program is this is journalism the way it used to be done,” says Managing Editor Kathy Jennings. “A reporter digs in and really gets to know a community. And since we are an online magazine we present it in an updated way. It’s the best of both the old and the new.”

On the Ground coverage began May 2012 with a pilot program through the IMG publication Flying Kite based out of Philadelphia. Former Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman developed the concept of an ongoing initiative that aimed to dive deep into neighborhood transformation. For 90 days, a project editor from Flying Kite was embedded in a vacant storefront or building and after three months they moved on to the next neighborhood. Between May 2012 and August 2013, Flying Kite was embedded in four neighborhoods in Philadelphia and New Jersey. 

IMG adopted this program model in 2013 for its Detroit-based publication Model D, which implemented its first On the Ground in the Osborn neighborhood in the city of Detroit and was followed by another program in Brightmoor.

The way it works is IMG identifies a partner or partners in each neighborhood who assists in connecting and orienting a dedicated journalist with residents. In order to establish a lasting relationship with the community and the groups involved with the project, the project editor dedicates time to researching the history of the neighborhood and developing an editorial framework based on the interests of the community. The journalist attends monthly neighborhood events and the On the Ground team hosts dedicated editorial advisory conversations to engage residents and stakeholders for story ideas and networking.

“This project offers our team, as well as the community, an opportunity to explore, consider, and engage with a neighborhood in ways that contemporary journalism doesn’t often allow,” says Project Editor Theresa Coty O’Neil. “Every day I meet new people and hear of new stories that reinvigorate my sense of what rich resources of spirit the Kalamazoo area contains. I can’t wait to see what additional stories we’ll discover on the Northside.”

And Vicky Kettner, Neighborhood Engagement Manager, says,  “Transitioning to Northside has been a wonderful experience. We’ve been warmly welcomed into the neighborhood and have had many stimulating discussions leading to exciting story ideas. There is no shortage of them. There is a richness of culture, entrepreneurship, and pride in the neighborhood that is emerging as an important theme and in need of being lifted. We’re looking forward to continuing capturing the voices of Northside.” 

In Kalamazoo, the On the Ground project also will involve training local residents as reporters. They will attend four classes and publish stories in Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. They will be paid as journalists for attending classes and having their work published. Their relationship as writers for Second Wave is expected to continue after their training. Four correspondents have completed this program so far in Kalamazoo.

Since launching On the Ground back in 2013, IMG has worked in over 15 different neighborhoods across the country. There have been On the Ground programs that have taken place in Memphis, Tampa, Grand Rapids, Dearborn, Ypsilanti, Pontiac, Cincinnati, and Detroit.

IMG views this engagement as an initial investment in a neighborhood. Programs are tailored to approach the needs of each neighborhood differently and treated as the first step in creating long-term media impact in the highlighted areas.

The Northside neighborhood has invited Second Wave to be the next community covered in the On the Ground Program.  

Your On the Ground Team is Managing Editor Kathy Jennings, Project Editor Theresa Coty O'Neil, and Engagement Manager Vicky Kettner, and photographer Dontae Travier.
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Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.